Planning and filming a promo video for an app is hard work; it’s an art form in it’s own right. If you’ve never created one before it can be really tough, there’s no shortage of things that can go wrong on the day of filming. I thought it’d be useful to share some of the things I wish I’d known before I started making promo videos for our apps over at Realmac.

If you’re wondering why you need a promo video, here’s a snippet from my last article on app promo videos.

If you’re planning your next big app launch, it’s pretty much essential that you have a promo video to help generate hype and build excitement around your app. A great promo video will give users and the press something to talk about in the build up to launch.

It’s worth taking the time to watch some of the promo videos listed in that article to give you an idea of the quality you should be aiming for.

I honestly hope the information below helps you plan and prepare for some of the things you might have otherwise overlooked when creating your next app promo. I’m going to start with one of the most crucial aspects, planning.

Planning

This is one of the most important things to focus on before doing anything else. The more planning you can do before you get stuck into filming, the smoother things will go and the fewer re-shoots you’ll have to do. There’s nothing worse than filming for a whole day and then realising you missed an important shot.

Start by sketching out a storyboard, thinking about what parts of the app you’d like to show off. Think about why someone might find your app useful, in what way can your app improve their life? How are you going to show it off? Will there be a storyline in the video? Don’t worry if you can’t draw, a storyboard is about getting your ideas down and working out how the scenes will work together to create a coherent story.

You should be aiming for your promo video to be around 30-60 seconds long at most. Once you have a complete storyboard, however rough it may be, you should time yourself doing a trial run using the parts of the app that you plan to show off. You’ll be surprised with the results of this, I can guarantee it’ll take much longer than you expect. Clever editing can help cut down the time, but don’t rely on it. You’ll probably want to go back and revise your storyboard a little to keep it concise.

Location and Casting

Next up, you’re going to need to think about location and casting. If you’re on a tight budget, asking friend’s or family to help you out is a good idea. Perhaps you can film at a friends office, at home or somewhere in public. When we filmed the original Clear video we used a local café. Thankfully, they were nice enough to let us use the space for free.

Filming the Clear Promo Video

For the model in the video I used my friend and colleague; Nik. Using Nik in the video had two massive benefits. First of all, I know him really well so it made filming much more relaxed. Second, he knows the product inside-out so was well prepared on the day of the shoot. If you’re hiring an actor or asking a friend to be in the video make sure they have had plenty of practice with the app so it’s not all new to them on the day.

You might also want to consider recording the iPhone or iPad screen directly. This is especially true if you’re filming outside as it can often be hard to see the screen in bright sunlight. I’d recommend using Reflector to capture the screen, you can then comp the screen onto the phone if you need too. Reflector isn’t perfect as it works over wifi so can be prone to dropping frames. Later this year when Yosemite and iOS 8 ship you’ll be able to record directly from the devices using Quicktime and a Thunderbolt cable. This will yield much better results and shouldn’t drop any frames.

Equipment and Filming

Depending on your skill set and the quality you’re after, it is entirely possible to shoot and edit the whole video yourself. You only need to look at Tiny Wings 2 as a great example of this. I’m guessing they used an iPhone to record the video and probably just used iMovie to edit it. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

If you have a fairly modern DSLR camera and a tripod you could shoot the video yourself. I’d only suggest going this route if you’re into photography and super confident you can pull it off. Even if you’re not 100% sure you can do it, it’s probably worth a shot. You’ll learn a bunch by doing it yourself, save some money and could end up with a half-decent video.

However if you’re not confident enough or don’t have the equipment, I’d recommend you hire a director to help you out. It’s not as expensive as you might think. For the Ember testimonial videos I used a local, Brighton based director and film maker. For both Clear promo videos I used London based Video Arcade Productions. Each one of these videos cost under $5,000 (USD) to produce. I’d say that’s pretty reasonable when you consider it includes equipment, filming, editing and sound design.

Editing and Sound

In the past I’ve found it useful to have a rough edit of the video with no audio produced. The unfinished promo is then sent to a sound designer to compose music and any ambient sound effects. Once the the final audio is back, the video is then re-edited and fine tuned to make sure the cuts are all timed perfectly to the music. I use Josh Mobley for most of the sound design and music we need at Realmac. Josh is not the cheapest, but he is exceptionally good.

When editing your video you should work hard to keep it under 60 seconds. It’s really easy to make it much longer when you have a lot of video footage to use. Don’t be afraid to throw shots away, you need to make sure the promo is short and engaging. Keep it tight. I believe the ideal promo length is around 30 seconds.

Final Checklist

Below is a quick summary of things to keep in mind while working on your next promo video.

  • Plan everything in as much detail as possible
  • Write down a list of features you want to show off
  • Only show off the best parts of your app
  • Do a timed trial run using your app (it’ll take longer than you think)
  • Try to tell a story if possible
  • Capture more video footage that you think you need
  • Music and sound design is extremely important
  • 30 seconds is the ideal length for a promo video